If the healthcare industry actually tallied the numbers and assigned a price tag to medication-related illness, the numbers would place it fourth-highest among “diseases” – behind cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, entitled: “Use of Prescription and Over-the-counter Medications and Dietary Supplements Among Older Adults in the United States,” revealed that 91% of adults over the age of 57 are taking some type of medication on a regular basis, with 81% taking a prescription medication regularly.
Prescription medication was only one type of medication studied. The researchers also looked at over-the-counter medication, herbal supplements, and vitamins and minerals. The JAMA study concluded that at least half of the survey respondents were utilizing at least 5 medications regularly, which translates to a lot of chemical and natural compounds entering the body routinely. While medications are designed to assist the body in dealing with particular challenges, certain compounds react with others in a manner that can, and does, create harmful interactions. These harmful drug interactions account for an average of 175,000 trips to the emergency room each year for seniors.
It is important to take into account age-related differences in the body which may affect the way a medicine reacts for a senior versus younger adults. Older adults tend to lose muscle and store more fat, and the fat balance can alter the effects of medication in the body. The health and overall functioning of the person’s eliminative organs (i.e., the liver and kidneys) has a tremendous effect on how well the medication is removed from the body. Poor elimination can spike the presence of the medication in the blood levels. Hydration (or lack thereof) can be a huge issue that seniors must guard against, since it definitely affects the way the stomach absorbs a particular substance. And what we eat, the effects of certain foods and liquids on our absorption, side effects, etc. are critical.
To prevent medication-related challenges, all your healthcare professionals should be aware of every medication you are currently taking. This is not simply related to prescription medications, but should include all compounds you take on a regular basis, even the seemingly innocent ones. Antacids, aspirin regimens, vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements – if you take it regularly, every person who contributes to your healthcare in any manner should be aware of it.
Ask your healthcare professionals questions. In addition to problematic drug interactions, certain combinations can deplete important nutrients from the body, so it is best to be aware of the possibilities. Your pharmacist is also your secret weapon in the fight for the prevention of medication-related challenges; he or she is often able to research the various medications you take for possible interactions. Be sure you contact them at a slower time of day so you can get the focused attention you will need.
Because the needs of seniors are different, there is a specialized field of pharmacists called “Senior Care Pharmacists” which may be of particular benefit. Find one utilizing the website of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.
Finally, you can conduct your own research by browsing through the “Beer’s List” of potentially inappropriate medications for senior adults.